Review: Shoes, Sadler’s Wells, Monday 6 September 2010

Never has our obsession with the shoe been more apparent. Sex and the City has transformed footwear into a lifestyle choice, Uggs have taken over the world and the Jimmy Choo has become an icon. Shoes, the most recent show at Sadler’s Wells, certainly has its finger on the pulse of the world’s consumers, building an entire dance revue around our bizarre infatuation with all things leather, suede and stilettoed.

Richard Thomas, best known for the infamous Jerry Springer – The Opera, turns his irreverent wit on a selection of the more ridiculous footwear fashions that have emerged over the last few decades, from seventies platforms to the more recent Ugg phenomenon.  His viciously funny lyrics and ingenious word play – ‘time wounds all heels’ was a personal favourite of mine – are paired with the inspired and innovative routines of a team of choreographers led by West End and Broadway dance legend Stephen Mear.

Mear and his collaborators have incorporated an impressive array of shoes into the dances, as Ugg wearers prance around in sheep costumes, glam rock wannabes perform a tap routine wearing platform boots and swimming cap clad dancers pirouette in flip-flops.  The most entertaining dances are those that revolve solely around the shoe in question, mainly due to the sheer awe and disbelief that they inspire.  Building choreography around footwear that is far from ideally suited to the medium of dance must have been a challenge to say the least, both for the choreographers and the dancers.

The show is a visual tour de force, with the set dominated by a giant stiletto to rival the one currently in residence at the Palace Theatre, home of the equally glamorous (and equally, gloriously camp) Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  The costumes – a highlight of which are the playful sheep suits – are dazzling both as individual creations and in their extraordinary range.  Of course we must also not forget the footwear, the centrepiece and star of the show, with no less than 250 pairs of shoes being worn over the two hours.

However, as enjoyable and visually stunning as Shoes may be, I cannot help feeling that Thomas and Mear have missed an opportunity to examine our often irrational and sometimes worrying consumer culture.  Thomas’s razor wit seems to have softened, with the overall tone gently mocking rather than cynically cutting.  We never see a true exploration of the psychology behind our attachment to shoes and Thomas rarely exposes the darker side of human nature that is so prominent in Jerry Springer.  One feels that this is a celebration rather than a criticism of our love affair with designer footwear.

To be fair, Thomas has stated that he wanted to write a fun show, and Shoes certainly delivers on the entertainment front.  Expect two extremely enjoyable hours at the theatre, but do not expect the incisive and controversial social observation of Jerry Springer. Shoes, like its subject matter, is a bit of a guilty pleasure.
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